Thursday, March 09, 2006

Organic Cement To Fix Broken Step

No one seems to be paying attention to the crumbling front step at the Plattsburgh City Library. The deteriorating concrete keeps piling up, is never swept away, indicating indifference.

But appearances are deceiving.

The step is healing itself.

The bad old concrete is sluffing off, making way for healthy new concrete to grow in. Technology has come to the rescue in the form of organic cement using gene therapy.

While most of the entrance is intact, the edges of a few steps have some seen hard wear over time. It’s as if someone scooped away at the steps in a few places. These spots have been patched in the past with a special compound to fill in the scoops, but that method has proven to be an inadequate stopgap. The compound doesn’t become integral to the step; it only adheres for a while.

Recently one large section has been falling apart, marked by orange spray paint. Scabby fragments just lie around. It seems that the city is indifferent to the slummy appearance and the potential for a lawsuit. Does this mean that the mayor is completely apathetic to this situation?

In fact, no. Apparent inaction disguises that fact that the step is actually healing itself, thanks to the injection of organic cement.

This para-biomaterial uses the amazing regenerative power demonstrated by most lizards. A lizard can lose a tail but can grow a new one in a matter of time.

That regrowth factor has been isolated in a particular lizard species, the gecko Hemidactylus mabouia. Gecko DNA has been interlaced into a new compound permeating the damaged step. The step will grow back as one solid piece.

So far no unusual side effects have been noted. When Hemidactylus mabouia loses a tail during an attack by a predator, the tail snaps off and starts thrashing about, creating a distraction so that the gecko can escape. There was concern that the treated step might suffer from thrashing pieces.

Recently the city of Plattsburgh has been criticized for raising the tax rate; this micropolitan community is faced with a budget crisis. One would think that the unfixed library step indicates that the city has given up. But secretly it is pressing forth with groundbreaking technology.

The reason for secrecy is that the city would rather spend more money now on an experimental method but save money in the long run, something that most taxpayers wouldn’t understand. To traditionally replace the front steps would cost around $500,000 in construction costs. The organic cement costs more but it doesn’t involve total replacement of the entrance. This way the library can stay open. Patrons have to be careful not to use the step while it is healing. Until the regeneration is complete, there is concern the gecko DNA might contaminate footwear, causing soles to sluff off and then grow new layers.

Of course, this new repair method is unproven and it may turn out that the city has wasted money. But the company behind the concrete gene therapy assures the mayor it has a backup plan: starfish DNA. The only downside with this alternative is the resulting concrete will be covered by spiny ossicles and also it will have to be treated with oyster juice on a regular basis.

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